Butterfly McQueen, an actress who wanted more
On this date we point out the birth of Butterfly McQueen in 1911. She was an African-American actress who portrayed Scarlett O’Hara’s squeaky-voiced maid, Prissy in Gone With The Wind.
Thelma McQueen (her birth name) was the daughter of a stevedore and a domestic worker. She was an only child from Tampa, Florida and got the name Butterfly after appearing in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which she danced in the Butterfly Ballet. Although Gone With The Wind went on to become a huge success, McQueen found it difficult finding work as an actress. She was often typecast in roles as maids and said, “I didn’t mind playing a maid the first time, because I thought that was how you got into the business. But after I did the same thing over and over, I resented it. I didn’t mind being funny, but I didn’t like being stupid.”
McQueen could not attend Gone With The Wind’s premiere because it was held in a whites only theater, but she was a guest of honor at its 50th anniversary celebration in 1989. In 1975 at age 64 McQueen earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from New York’s City College. In 1980 she won an Emmy for her performance in a children’s production, The Seven Wishes of a Rich Kid. Butterfly McQueen died from burns suffered in a fire at her home in Augusta, Georgia in 1996.
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
Today in American History